Aberfoyle to Oban and the Isle of Mull

My mind is in a wee bit of a jumble with all that we’ve done and seen in the past couple of days! So let’s see….We left Aberfoyle after two days at the Glendaruel B&B, which has been by far our favorite lodging so far. With a relaxing day on Loch Katrine and some nice walks in the friendly town of Aberfoyle we finally slowed down after our hectic visits to the big cities. We’re doing a bit more driving now, but the scenery is constantly changing and consistently gorgeous so we’re enjoying it.

The drive from Aberfoyle to Tobermory requires a trip on the ferry, which meant that we had a schedule to keep. Planning drive time based on using every tiny little back road is rather difficult, add in a few wrong turns and it becomes nearly impossible! We made it to the ferry with time to spare, though we didn’t get to stop and walk amongst some standing stones that we’d hoped to see. Oh well, we’ll keep that on our list for the next trip.

Our first stop was to visit the Inverary Castle, which is the home of the current Duke and Duchess of Argyll. The castle was gorgeous and we were able to walk through a number of rooms that had some original furnishings, mixed in with historic memorabilia and photos of the current family. It was interesting to see the lineage of the land and castle, made current by the wedding and christening photos all around. The traditions continue! We were also surprised to learn that this castle was the filming site for one of the episodes of Downton Abbey. For all you DA fans, remember when the family went to Scotland to visit Shrimpie? Yep, that’s the one!

After touring the castle for a bit, we went over to the town of Inverary to see what we could see. We ended up in a sporting goods store buying wellies since we expect to find some muddy spots on our treks in the Highlands. With our shopping expedition completed we found an outside table in the sun at a nearby café and had lunch while watching the people wander by. I had some Scottish smoked salmon that was awesome, and Marty had his new favorite; steak and ale pie. The warm sun was a wonderful treat and we savored every minute. Then it was soon time to hit the road to make sure we arrived in Oban in time for our ferry.

Oban is situated in a beautiful harbor, protected with a small island just off shore and two narrow entrances into the harbor. There were lots of sailboats on moorings and we thought it would be fun to bring Happy Dance here someday. Our ferry was a huge ship built for heavy seas, where both the bow and stern both open to let cars into the hold. We climbed up to the top deck to enjoy the 45-minute ride to Mull, passing by castles and oohing and aahing at the beautiful scenery. We even saw a couple of dolphins riding the wake!

The Isle of Mull is much larger than we expected, has much higher peaks, and is absolutely beautiful.  The single track road leading us to Tobermory , and then taking us around the island the following day had so many twists and turns and the scenery kept changing around every corner.  Hillsides covered in purple heather would be replaced by thick pine forest, then we’d drop into a valley with old shiny trunked beech trees and blue lochs.  We ran into (almost literally) some fuzzy sheep roadblocks, and saw our first highland coos (cows).  We walked on Calgary beach with its white sand and clear blue waters, we hiked through sheep fields with crazy horned sheep bahhhhing, we climbed down on a rocky point to sit out of the wind and enjoy the sun with a Traquair ale, we just enjoyed the heck out of Mull!

A footnote here about the town of Calgary.  This was the site of one of the infamous “clearances” that occurred in Scotland after the battle for independence was squashed by the British.  “In the late 18th century well into the 19th century, Highland estates moved from arable and mixed farming, which supported a large tenant population, to the more profitable sheep-farming. Surplus tenants were ‘cleared’ off the estates from about 1780; and the Clearances were ongoing nearly 70 years later at the time of the potato famine in 1846.”  The people who were thrown off their homes in the village of Calgary are said to be the people who founded Calgary, British Columbia.  It’s just another example of how the beauty of Scotland is tightly interwoven with the history, which can be harsh when looking at a vista of gorgeous green hillsides dotted with the ruins of crofter’s’ huts.

From Mull we went back to Oban for a couple of nights so that we could partake of the Argyllshire Gathering.  Think county fair with bagpipes and dancers!  It was a fun fun day though, beginning with following the bagpipe band led by the current Duke of Argyll (we were just at his home, remember?) in the march to the field.  The entire town and lots of visitors all paraded through town with the bagpipes blaring a tune out front – what fun!  Then we got to the “pitch”, the big grassy field and enjoyed all the activities.  Everything was happening at once so it was fun to watch dancing with piping, and track races, and the heavy field events in the middle of the field.  Kilts and bagpipes were everywhere, haggis burgers and ales, clan flags flying, it was awesome!

After our day at the festival we bought some cheese and salmon, and a bottle of Scottish wine to enjoy on our B&B deck while looking out over the harbor.  It was so nice to just sit and take it all in.  Then our hostess Val came out, and we started up an earlier conversation we’d had about genealogy and how I might find my 3rd great grandmother’s family who were from Glasgow.  It’s all so close here, I feel as though we might pass a spot where my ancestors walked.  I hope to someday have a bit more time here to actually track down those elusive connections!

We continue to be struck by how big Scotland is in terms of personality, history, and culture, with so much diversity in such a small land area.  The changing countryside, unique towns, voices, foods, and communities, and the pride, always a sense of pride.  The homes, farms and even the wild hills are all so tidy!  The colors are intense and the people are as well; sometimes guarded, but once you get them talking it’s such a friendly conversation.  We are loving each new bend in the road, excited to see what we’ll find there.




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